Chase Chandler walked out of the gate into Dulles International Airport and inhaled deeply. Each breath of air outside his hometown of Yorkshire Falls, New York, presented true freedom. At last.
“Hey, big brother!” His youngest sibling, Roman, pulled him into a bear hug. “Welcome to D.C. Good flight?”
“The best kind. Short and on time.” Chase hiked his duffel bag over his shoulder and started toward the exit. “How’s the wife?”
A ridiculous smile settled on Roman’s lips. “Charlotte’s amazing. Getting bigger by the day. My kid’s growing inside her,” he added, as if he hadn’t reminded them all of Charlotte’s pregnancy one hundred times before. “One month to go.” He rubbed his hands together in obvious anticipation.
“Just recently a wife and kid was the last thing you wanted. We had to toss a coin to decide which of us would give Mom the grandkid she wanted so badly. Now look at you. A husband and soon-to-be dad, and happy about both.” Chase shook his head, amazed and pleased with the changes in his little brother. The kid was settled and happy, which made Chase happy. He’d done his duty by his family.
Roman shrugged. “What can I say? That was before. Now I’m a changed man.”
“Before you grew up, you mean?” Chase winked and his brother chuckled.
Both men knew Roman had fought long and hard until he concluded that marrying Charlotte wouldn’t mean giving up his foreign-correspondent lifestyle, merely trading it in for something more fulfilling. Now he had a job with the Washington Post as an op-ed columnist, a wife, and a family.
“You have no idea what you’re missing,” Roman said, not missing a beat. “A woman to come home to, a warm body in bed, and someone who loves you unconditionally.”
Like religious fanatics, both Roman and Rick, his middle sibling who’d also recently gotten hitched, had begun to preach the benefits of marriage. Chase wasn’t buying it. “Trust me, I can live without it, thank you very much. If I get that lonely, I’ll find myself a dog.”
His dreams didn’t include a wife and family. His brothers, as much as he loved them, had been a handful to raise. He didn’t need little rugrats of his own. From the time he’d turned eighteen and his father had unexpectedly passed away, Chase had been the male parent and role model. He’d taken over as publisher of the Yorkshire Falls Gazette and helped his mother raise his brothers—both jobs he’d never resented. Chase was not one to look back. And now, at thirty-seven, he was free to move on with a life of his own and grasp the dreams he’d put on hold. Starting with this trip to Washington.
He walked around a slow-moving couple and headed for the sign marked PARKING GARAGE. He glanced at Roman. The dimwitted gaze hadn’t dulled and Chase grinned. “I guess I can call Mom and tell her you’re strutting around like a proud papa.”
“Don’t bother,” Roman said, falling into step beside him. “When we’re not in Yorkshire Falls, she checks in once a day with Charlotte by phone.”
Chase nodded. That was his mother, Raina, meddling and proud of it. “Well, I couldn’t be happier for you.” He patted his brother on the back.
“And I’m glad you’ve left the paper in someone else’s hands and decided to put yourself first for once.”
Chase answered Roman with a grunt. After all, the kid was right. Not once in the years since he’d taken over had he abdicated responsibility for the Gazette.
“The car’s parked in the lot.” Roman gestured in the direction they needed to go and Chase followed, nearly tripping over a young kid who’d decided to play tag.
“Thanks for picking me up,” Chase said, noticing that the wayward kid had been corralled by his parents. Roman and Rick had been eleven and fifteen, respectively, when their dad passed away. They’d been old enough to take care of themselves and Chase hadn’t had to deal with their toddler years. Thank God. Their late teens had been tough enough.
“How’s Mom?” Roman asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Her … ah … health.”
“Stuttering for a reason?” he asked.
Roman picked up his pace but remained silent. Chase could almost see his brother’s brain churning to come up with a reply. A few months ago, Chase had rushed his mother to the emergency room with chest pains. Later, she’d told her sons she’d been diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Though they’d spoken to the doctor, confidentiality had prevented them from finding out anything more than what Raina had told them. Her three sons had danced around her bedside, making sure she took care of herself. Since she’d curtailed all activity, Chase hadn’t thought to question the diagnosis further, until he began to notice inconsistencies in his mother’s behavior. Too much color in her cheeks for someone with a weak heart. Too much swigging of antacids. The more recent prescription drug to treat gastric reflux, which if left untreated could have severe consequences. And running up and down the stairs when she thought she wouldn’t be caught.
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